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The space race is back on – but who will win? | Space

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Liu Boming took in the dizzy view. Around him lay the inky vastness of space. Below was the Earth. “Wow,” he said, laughing. “It’s too beautiful out here.” Over the next seven hours Liu and his colleague Tang Hongbo carried out China’s second spacewalk, helped along by a giant robotic arm.

Mission accomplished, the two taikonauts – China’s astronauts – clambered back into their home for the next three months: Beijing’s new space station. The core module of the station, named Tiangong, meaning “heavenly palace”, was launched in April. “There will be more spacewalks. The station will keep growing,” Liu said.

Meanwhile, on Mars, a Chinese rover was exploring. Video shows the vehicle trundling over a rocky surface. There is even sound: an eerie mechanical groaning. Since landing in May the Zhurong probe has been busy seeking clues as to whether Mars once supported life. There is no answer yet: so far it has travelled just over 410 metres.

China is only the second country to land and operate a rover on the red planet, after the US. The frantic tempo of the China National Space Administration’s (CNSA) recent programme is reminiscent of the cold war, when Moscow and Washington were superpower rivals scrambling to put the first man in space and land on the moon.

Half a century on, space has opened up. It is less ideological and a lot more crowded. About 72 countries have space programmes, including India, Brazil, Japan, Canada, South Korea and the UAE. The European Space Agency is active too, while the UK boasts the most private space startups after the US.

Space today is also highly commercial. On Sunday Richard Branson flew to the edge of space and back again in his Virgin Galactic passenger rocket. On Tuesday, Branson’s fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos is due to travel in his own reusable craft, New Shepard, built by the Amazon founder’s company Blue Origin and launched from west Texas.

Billionaire Richard Branson floats in zero gravity at the edge of space on Virgin Galactic’s rocket.
Billionaire Richard Branson floats in zero gravity at the edge of space on Virgin Galactic’s rocket. Photograph: Virgin Galactic/Reuters

Non-state actors play an increasingly important role in space exploration. Elon Musk’s SpaceX vehicles have made numerous flights to the International Space Station (ISS), and since last year they have transported people as well as cargo. Later this year Musk is due to send his own all-civilian crew into orbit – though he isn’t going himself.

Even so, space still reflects tensions on Earth. “Astropolitics follows terrapolitics,” says Mark Hilborne, a lecturer in defence studies at King’s College London. Up there anything goes, he adds. “Space governance is a bit fuzzy. Laws are few and very old. They are not written for asteroid mining or for a time when companies dominate.”

The biggest challenge to US space supremacy comes not from Russia – heir to the Soviet Union’s pioneering space programme, which launched the Sputnik satellite and got the first human into space in the form of Yuri Gagarin – but from China.

In 2011 Congress prohibited US scientists from cooperating with Beijing. Its fear: scientific espionage. Taikonauts are banned from visiting the ISS, which has hosted astronauts from 19 countries over the past 20 years. The station’s future beyond 2028 is uncertain. Its operations may yet be extended in the face of increasing Chinese competition.

In its annual threat assessment this April, the office of the US Director of National Intelligence (DNI) described China as a “near-peer competitor” pushing for global power. It warns: “Beijing is working to match or exceed US capabilities in space to gain the military, economic, and prestige benefits that Washington has accrued from space leadership.”

The Biden administration suspects Chinese satellites are being used for non-civilian purposes. The People’s Liberation Army integrates reconnaissance and navigation data in military command and control systems, the DNI says. “Satellites are inherently dual use. It’s not like the difference between an F15 fighter jet and a 737 passenger plane,” Hilborne says.

Once China completes the Tiangong space station next year, it is likely to invite foreign astronauts to take part in missions. One goal: to build new soft-power alliances. Beijing says interest from other countries is enormous. The low Earth orbit station is part of an ambitious development strategy in the heavens rather than on land – a sort of belt and rocket initiative.

Liu Boming leaving China’s new Tiangong space station earlier this month to go on the second space walk in the country’s history.
Liu Boming leaving China’s new Tiangong space station earlier this month to go on the second space walk in the country’s history. Photograph: Jin Liwang/AP

According to Alanna Krolikowski, an assistant professor at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, a “bifurcation” of space exploration is under way. In one emerging camp are states led by China and Russia, many of them authoritarian; in the other are democracies and “like-minded” countries aligned with the US.

Russia has traditionally worked closely with the Americans, even when terrestrial relations were bad. Now it is moving closer to Beijing. In March, China and Russia announced plans to co-build an international lunar research station. The agreement comes at a time when Vladimir Putin’s government has been increasingly isolated and subject to western sanctions. In June, Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping renewed a friendship treaty. Moscow is cosying up to Beijing out of necessity, at a time of rising US-China bipolarity.

These rival geopolitical factions are fighting over a familiar mountainous surface: the moon. In 2019 a Chinese rover landed on its far side – a first. China is now planning a mission to the moon’s south pole, to establish a robotic research station and an eventual lunar base, which would be intermittently crewed.

Nasa, meanwhile, has said it intends to put a woman and a person of colour on the moon by 2024. SpaceX has been hired to develop a lander. The return to the moon – after the last astronaut, commander Eugene Cernan, said goodbye in December 1972 – would be a staging post for the ultimate “giant leap”, Nasa says: sending astronauts to Mars.

Private firms such as Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin are maintaining the US’s status as the world’s greatest space power.
Private firms such as Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin are maintaining the US’s status as the world’s greatest space power. Photograph: Chuck Bigger/Alamy

Krolikowski is sceptical that China will quickly overtake the US to become the world’s leading spacefaring country. “A lot of what China is doing is a reprisal of what the cold war space programmes did in the 1960s and 1970s,” she said. Beijing’s recent feats of exploration have as much to do with national pride as scientific discovery, she says.

But there is no doubting Beijing’s desire to catch up, she adds. “The Chinese government has established, or has plans for, programmes or missions in every major area, whether it’s Mars missions, building mega constellations of telecommunications satellites, or exploring asteroids. There is no single area of space activity they are not involved in.”

“We see a tightening of the Russia-China relationship,” Krolikowski says. “In the 1950s the Soviet Union provided a wide range of technical assistance to Beijing. Since the 1990s, however, the Russian space establishment has experienced long stretches of underfunding and stagnation. China now presents it with new opportunities.”

Russia is poised to benefit from cost sharing, while China gets deep-rooted Russian technical expertise. At least, that’s the theory. “I’m sceptical this joint space project will materialise anytime soon,” says Alexander​ Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Centre. Gabuev says both countries are “techno-nationalist”. Previous agreements to develop helicopters and wide-bodied aircraft saw nothing actually made, he says.

China’s Zhurong Mars rover with its landing platform, which reached the planet in May
China’s Zhurong Mars rover with its landing platform, which reached the planet in May Photograph: CNSA/ZUMA Press Wire Service/REX/Shutterstock

The Kremlin has been a key partner in managing and resupplying the ISS. US astronauts used Russian Soyuz rockets to reach the station, taking off from a cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, after the Space Shuttle programme was phased out. But this epoch seems to be coming to an end as private companies such as SpaceX take over. “I expect US-Russian relations to get worse,” Gabuev says, adding that Americans “no longer need” Russia’s help.

Moscow’s state corporation for space activities, Roscosmos, has faced accusations of being more interested in politics than space research. Last month the newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported that Roscosmos’s executive director of manned space programmes, former cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, had been fired. His apparent crime: questioning an official decision to shoot a film on the Russian section of the ISS.

Yulia Peresild: heading to space.
Yulia Peresild: heading to space. Photograph: Stephane Cardinale – Corbis/Corbis/Getty Images

The film, Challenge, is about a female surgeon operating on a cosmonaut in space, and has been backed and financed by Roscosmos . It stars Yulia Peresild, who is due to head to space in October with director Klim Shipenko. The launch seems timed to beat Tom Cruise, who is due to shoot his own movie on board the ISS with director Doug Liman.

Krikalev, who spent more than 800 days in space and was in orbit when the USSR collapsed, apparently told Roscomos’s chief, Dmitry Rogozin, that the film was pointless. Rogozin – its co-producer – has called on the west to drop sanctions in return for Russia’s cooperation on space projects. Putin, Rogozin’s boss, appears to not be very interested in other planets, though, and is more concerned with nature and the climate crisis these days.

“Space is one of the areas that has traditionally transcended politics. The Mir space station worked at a time of east-west tensions. There was symbolic cooperation. Whether this will continue in the future is really up for debate,” Hilborne says. “The US is very sensitive about what happens in space.”

Most observers think the US will remain the world’s pre-eminent space power, thanks to its innovative and flourishing private sector. China’s Soviet-style state programme appears less nimble. Despite ambitious timetables, and billions spent by Beijing, it is unclear when – or even if – an astronaut will return to the moon. The 2030s, perhaps? Will they be American or Chinese? Or from a third country?

It may well be that the first person to boldly go again doesn’t merely represent a nation or carry a flag. More likely, they will emerge from a lunar lander wearing a spacesuit with a SpaceX logo on the back – a giant leap not only for mankind, but for galactic marketing.



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4 reasons hybrid working looks set to stay for young professionals

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From priorities to practicalities, Dr Amanda Jones of King’s College London explains why hybrid working may be here to stay and outlines the pitfalls that younger employees will need to avoid.

Click here to visit The Conversation.

A version of this article was originally published by The Conversation (CC BY-ND 4.0)

We’re in the middle of a remote working revolution. In the UK, though remote working was slowly growing before the pandemic, in 2020 the number of people working from home doubled.

While this rapid rise can be explained by Covid lockdowns, a recent survey my colleagues and I conducted with 2,000 London workers found that six in 10 employees still regularly work from home despite restrictions no longer being in place. And most don’t want that to change.

Findings from other parts of the world similarly point to a substantial increase in the number of work days being undertaken from home.

For young professionals, the shift has been particularly significant. Before the pandemic, employees in their 20s were by far the least likely to work from home.

In 2022, 64pc of 16 to 24-year-olds we surveyed reported working at home for at least part of the week. This figure is in line with 25 to 49-year-olds (65pc) and in fact higher than for people over 50 (48pc).

Other research also shows that young professionals now engage in hybrid working – dividing their time between their home and their workplace – and may prefer this model to being in the office full time.

US and European data shows that around four in 10 jobs can be conducted from home. But this figure may be higher if we consider that some jobs could be at least partly done from home. In particular, jobs in finance and insurance, information and communication and education are among the most conducive to being performed remotely.

Technologies which support remote working, such as Zoom and Slack, have been available for a number of years. While the pandemic has served as a catalyst for the rise in remote working among younger employees, I would argue that other factors have also contributed to this shift – some of which were already evident before the pandemic.

Importantly, each of these factors suggest this change to the way young professionals work is here to stay.

1. Priorities

Evidence suggests that even before the pandemic, young people were becoming more focused on their own goals, wanted greater flexibility and control, and sought a better work-life balance compared with previous generations. The reasons for this may be related to the changing nature of organisations and careers, which I’ll discuss later.

Our own and other research indicates that remote working, especially working from home (as opposed to, say, at client sites), can boost feelings of flexibility and control and enhance work-life balance. So working remotely could help younger people achieve these goals in a way that traditional working arrangements can’t.

In fact, research indicates that many young people would now rather switch jobs than compromise on the flexibility they gain from hybrid working. So for employers, supporting hybrid working may be necessary to attract and retain the best employees.

2. Practicalities

Across all age groups, participants in our research picked avoiding the commute as the biggest benefit of working remotely. While this has long been a recognised advantage of remote working, it’s important to note that we surveyed London workers – and the commute may be less of an issue for people in other places.

Aside from the time and hassle involved in commuting, travelling to work every day can be expensive. The cost of working in the office goes up if you also factor in lunches, coffees and after-work social activities.

This may be difficult for younger people – who are contending with the rising costs of living, often on lower salaries – to manage. Working remotely can help reduce spending, making it an attractive option – and even a potential lifeline – for younger employees.

3. Career trajectories

Studies show that a move towards less hierarchical, more efficient and flexible organisations results in a “new deal” of employment. Employers no longer guarantee job security and progression for employees, but gain their commitment by providing opportunities – including training programmes – that enhance their employability.

The onus then moves to employees to manage their own career progression, which remote working may help them with. For example, we know working from home can reduce distractions and improve productivity.

Taken with the commuting time saved, young professionals may have more time to dedicate to development opportunities, such as studying for additional qualifications. This could increase their attractiveness in the job market.

Indeed, young professionals seem to be the most likely to switch jobs. If they don’t expect to remain with an organisation long term, they may be less motivated to build strong relationships with colleagues and managers, and unwilling to put their own goals aside for those of the organisation.

4. Managers’ behaviour

Research shows many more managers now work remotely compared with before the pandemic. This change has two important effects.

First, managers who work remotely are likely to find it harder to stop juniors from doing the same. Managers’ ability to monitor and develop their junior staff in person, a common reason for prohibiting remote work in the past, is also reduced if managers are away from the office themselves.

Second, as more managers work remotely, younger employees may feel more confident that doing so won’t prevent them achieving success. Managers serve as role models to junior employees and evidence shows that younger professionals seek success by copying role models’ behaviour.

Avoiding the pitfalls of hybrid working

Despite the positives, younger employees, with comparatively limited experience and networks, may face disproportionately negative outcomes from remote working in terms of recognition, development and networking opportunities.

So if you’re a young professional working remotely, how can you avoid the pitfalls of hybrid working?

Setting your own goals can keep motivation and performance high. Meanwhile, proactively communicating your challenges and achievements to senior and peer-level colleagues can ensure that you receive guidance and recognition.

It’s a good idea to plan some of your time in the office to coordinate with team members or managers. At the same time, it’s useful to try to schedule office visits on different days of the week. This can help maintain key relationships but also help build networks through bumping into colleagues you don’t necessarily work as closely with.

Finally, upping attendance at external conferences and events could increase your value to the organisation through encouraging innovation and fresh ideas, while keeping you aware of external employment opportunities.

The Conversation

By Dr Amanda Jones

Dr Amanda Jones is a lecturer in organisational behaviour and human resource management at King’s College London.

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Kids’ tech: the best children’s gadgets for summer holidays | Gadgets

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With the long school summer holiday well under way, you may need a bit of help keeping the kids entertained. From walkie-talkies and cameras to tablets, robot toys and fitness trackers, here are some of the best kid-aimed tech to keep the little (and not-so-little) ones occupied.

Robot toys

Sphero Mini – about £50

Sphero Mini robotic ball.
Sphero Mini robotic ball. Photograph: Bryan Rowe/Sphero

Lots of tech toys are fads but my longtime favourite has stood the test of time as a modern update to remote control fun. Sphero is a ball you control using a smartphone or tablet, and has hidden depths, with games and educational elements also available.

The mini Sphero ball is a lot of fun to drive around and small enough that overexuberant indoor excursions won’t result in broken furniture and scuffed-up paintwork. The Sphero Play app has games, while the Sphero Edu app is great at fostering creative learning.

Kids or big kids can learn to program, follow examples, get the robot to do all sorts of things, or go deeper and write some code for it in JavaScript. Higher-end versions such as the £190 BOLT take the educational elements to the next level, too.

Tablets

Amazon Fire 7 Kids – about £110

Amazon Fire 7 Kids edition tablet.
Amazon Fire 7 Kids edition tablet. Photograph: Amazon

If you would rather not lend your precious breakable phone or iPad to your little ones, Amazon’s practically indestructible Kids edition tablets could be just the ticket.

The cheapest and smallest Fire 7 has just been updated and is available in a range of bright-coloured cases with a pop-out stand. If your offspring do manage to break it, Amazon will replace it for free under its two-year “worry-free” guarantee.

It does all the standard tablet things such as movies, apps, games, a web browser if you want it, and parental controls to lock it, set time limits and age filters. There’s even an option restricting access to curated child-safe sites and videos but it doesn’t have access to the Google Play store, only Amazon’s app store.

The Kids edition comes with a one-year subscription to Amazon Kids+ (£3 to £7 a month afterwards), which is a curated collection of child-friendly text and audio books, movies, TV shows and educational apps.

The larger £140 Fire HD 8 and £200 Fire HD 10 are available in Kids versions, too, if you want something bigger, or Amazon’s new Kids Pro tablets start at £100 with additional features aimed at school-age children.

Alternatives include LeapFrog’s various educational tablets, which are fine for younger children, or hand-me-down or refurbished iPads (from £150) in robust cases, which can be locked down with some parental controls.

Cameras

VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 – about £39

VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 kids’ camera in pink.
VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 kids’ camera in pink. Photograph: VTech

Before the advent of smartphones, standalone cameras were the way we visually documented our lives, and they still can be a bit of creative fun and inspiration for kids.

The VTech Kidizoom Duo 5.0 is a “my first digital camera” of sorts made of rugged plastic and simple in operation, which VTech reckons is suitable for three- to nine-year-olds. It captures 5MP photos of reasonable quality and can shoot from the back for selfies, too, all viewable on a 2.4in screen.

The optical viewfinder helps them line up the shot, which they can transform with fun filters and effects. It even shoots video, too. The kid-centric nature of it might turn off older children but every award-winning photographer has to start somewhere before the smartphone takes over.

It needs an SD card for storage and takes four AA batteries at a time, and chews through them fast, so buy some rechargeables to help save money and the planet.

For older children, rugged and waterproof action cams could be the way to go, shooting video and photos. Budget no-brand cams cost from about £80 but secondhand or refurbished models from the big boys such as GoPro and DJI go for about £100 and on eBay and elsewhere.

Fitness trackers

Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 – from about £55

Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 Star Wars edition.
Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 Star Wars edition. Photograph: Garmin

Your child may not need any encouragement to tear about the place but if you are after a gadget to “gamify” and reward their activity – as well as giving them a smartwatch-esque gadget to play with – the Garmin Vivofit Jr 3 could be a winner for ages four and up.

Its watch-like form comes in various themes and designs, including with various Star Wars, Marvel and Disney characters, with custom watchfaces to choose from. The user-replaceable coin-cell battery lasts a year, so you don’t have to worry about charging it. Water-resistance to 50 metres means swimming should be no problem either.

It tracks steps, activity and sleep with motivational messaging. It has mini games to play once your child has hit their goals, and can all be managed from a parent’s phone or tablet, so you can keep an eye on their data. Parents can even set goals, competitions with their own activity levels, chore reminders and tasks that can earn virtual coins for them to trade for rewards with you.

It is button-operated rather than touchscreen, and the backlight doesn’t stay on long to preserve the battery.

If you are a user of Google’s Fitbit trackers yourself, then the firm’s Ace 3 (£50) means you can compete on activity, but it needs charging every seven or so days. Other cheaper adult-focused fitness trackers such as the Xiaomi Mi Smart Band 6 (about £29) may be better for older children.

Walkie-talkies

Motorola T42 Talkabout – about £35 for three

Motorola Talkabout T42 two-way radios.
Motorola Talkabout T42 two-way radios. Photograph: Motorola Solutions

Walkie-talkies are a great replacement for phones, allowing kids and big kids to keep in touch without fear of fees or smashed screens.

There are plenty of child-centric options available with various character themes but basic units usually work better. Motorola’s T42 Talkabout comes in various colours and multipacks.

They are simple to set up, with a pairing button and multiple channel selection to find a clear one. Once going, just push to talk, even over long distances. Their quoted 4km range might be a bit ambitious but they should be good for at least 500 metres in urban environments, or much further in the open air.

They take three AAA batteries each, which last about 18 hours of talking or roughly three to four days in active use, so you might need a small army of rechargeable batteries.

They have a belt clip and loop for hooking to a carabiner (metal loop) or similar, and are fairly rugged, too, so should survive being launched across a room or two.

Nestling’s camouflage walkie-talkies (about £26) are also a popular choice but there are lots of choices under £30 available on the high street.

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India’s latest rocket flies but payloads don’t prosper • The Register

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India’s small satellite launch vehicle (SSLV) made a spectacular debut launch on Sunday, but the mission fell short of overall success when two satellites were inserted into the incorrect orbit, rendering them space junk.

The SSLV was developed to carry payloads of up to 500 kg to low earth orbits on an “on-demand basis”. India hopes the craft will let its space agency target commercial launches.

Although it is capable of achieving 500 km orbits, SSLV’s Saunday payload was an 135 kg earth observation satellite called EOS-2 and student-designed 8 kg 8U cubesat AzaadiSAT. Both were intended for a 356 km orbit at an inclination of about 37 degrees.

That rocket missed that target.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) identified the root cause of the failure Sunday night: a failure of logic to identify a sensor failure during the rocket stage.

ISRO further tweeted a committee would analyse the situation and provide recommendations as the org prepared for SSLV-D2.

ISRO Chairman S Somanath further explained the scenario in a video statement, before vowing to become completely successful in the second development flight of SSLV. “The vehicle took off majestically,” said Somanath who categorized the three rocket stages and launch as a success.

“However, we subsequently noticed an anomaly in the placement of the satellites in the orbit. The satellites were placed in an elliptical orbit in place of a circular orbit,” caveated the chairman.

Somanath said the satellites could not withstand the atmospheric drag in the elliptical orbit and had already fallen and become “no longer usable.” The sensor isolation principle is to be corrected before SSLV’s second launch to occur “very soon.”

Although ISRO has put on a brave face, its hard to imagine the emotions of the school children who designed AzaadiSat. According to the space org, the satellite was built by female students in rural regions across the country, with guidance and integrated by the student team of of student space-enthusiast org Space Kidz India.

EOS-2 was designed by ISRO and was slated to offer advanced optical remote sensing in infra-red band with high spatial resolution. ®



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